Scott Robinson Solo
Scott Robinson & K.S. Resmi
Photos (300 dpi jpg) - Press Kits - Concert Flyers - Interviews
E-Press Kit I: Performance Options, Review
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“N. Scott Robinson: Percussionist
with a Worldview—Part 1”
By Scott Davidson for World Percussion
& Rhythm 11, no. 2 (Fall 2010), 8-9. 17.
SD: What is your musical background?
NSR: I had some piano lessons in the 8th
grade for about a year and fiddled with electric guitar
on my own but in high school I began playing drumset and
developed a serious interest in music from that. By the
end of high school I was studying timpani, drumset, and
piano privately in preparation for Berklee College of Music.
I realized you had to be able to play many styles of music,
and I thought a drummer was supposed to play all the percussion
instruments, too, so I was playing xylophone and timpani
in high school. There was a world percussionist near my
home, Richard Graham. I discovered that there were different
kinds of drums used in ethnic music, and he was the only
guy around at that time in the early 1980s who knew anything
about that. I also studied with him for a few years in high
school, and he opened up all kinds of doors for me. It was
through Richard Graham that I began playing riqq,
pandeiro, kalimba, berimbau,
and all kinds of world percussion. He used to take me to
New York to the drum shops and ethnic neighborhoods to find
instruments and records. He took me to libraries and showed
me how to do research since I wanted to know more about
instruments like frame drums and mbira. It was
really wonderful what he did. I continued studying with
him after college. Through him, I was able to later study
with Naná Vasconcelos and Glen Velez. I did a year
at Berklee College of Music in 1983-1984, and that was really
incredible. To be 18 and totally let loose to focus on jazz
and drumming was just what I needed then. I couldn’t
really afford to stay there beyond that so I went to William
Paterson College in New Jersey briefly and got into classical
percussion. I played with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble
and got to work with John Cage while I was there. That was
also wonderfully stimulating and an entire world of percussion
I had no idea existed. I remember one day peeking through
a window and seeing 26 percussionists rehearsing Charles
Wuorinen’s Percussion Symphony and thought
that was where I wanted to be. Ray Des Roches and Gary Van
Dyke were the teachers I worked with, and the students there
were also amazing. At any time there were about 20 very
serious and skilled percussion students there. Bill Stewart
and Van Romaine were some of the jazz drumset students there
at that time so I hung with a lot of great people there.
Because I could never afford to keep going to college,
I had to drop out so I started teaching privately and doing
little gigs here and there to survive. By the late-1980s,
I was playing pretty regularly in a variety of contexts
and studying with Keith Copland on drumset, Naná
Vasconcelos, and Glen Velez. Another thing that happened
to me around that time was getting a job at Rutgers University.
I did a year long tour with a theater group where it was
9 actors and myself on percussion. The teacher of this group
was Joe Hart, and he was really amazing at having me create
all kinds of timbres and improvising with actors. When that
ended I was offered a position in the Rutgers University
Dance Department as an accompanist for modern dance classes.
I was able to work with Robert “Tigger” Benford
and ended up staying there for 8 years. That was such an
important experience for me to really hone technique, improvisation,
and sense of phrasing on a lot of the world percussion I
was playing. After one year of playing for dance and hanging
around the university, I got the bug to go back to school.
I was able to get a full scholarship and a lot of financial
grants to go to school. It ended up being free for me for
5 years, and I took advantage of that by taking every class
I could and doing both jazz and classical percussion majors
and a minor in anthropology. New Brunswick, New Jersey was
close to New York so I was able to keep playing gigs while
I was doing that. In New York, I was playing with Glen Velez,
Layne Redmond and Steve Gorn, Paul Winter Consort, and worked
with the composer Annea Lockwood in her ensemble with Art
Baron, Peter Zummo, and Jon Gibson. At Rutgers I was involved
in concerts with the Benny Carter Big Band. Those gigs were
recorded live and released as a CD that won a Grammy Award.
While studying at Rutgers, I remember needing a roommate
for an apartment I was living at. I advertised that musicians
were welcome and an older gentleman called inquring about
the place. I thought to myself that it would never work
out. It turned out that it was Buddy Montgomery calling,
the brother of Wes Montgomery! He moved in and was my roommate
for a year while I was a jazz student at Rutgers. I remember
getting up to go to a jazz history class, and Buddy was
making breakfast and he'd start telling me stories about
playing with John Coltrane, and I thought to myself "This
is my jazz history class!" Those kinds of scenarios
kept happening to me. Luck doesn't begin to describe it.
When I graduated in 1994, I went to Japan for a little
while and was playing around. I actually got a gig as an
extra actor on Japanese TV. After 6 months of that I came
back and started teaching at Shenandoah University in Virginia
for 1 year. I liked the stability that the university setting
offered so I ended up going to Kent State University for
graduate degrees in ethnomusicology. My background is diverse
but I think the most important aspect of my history is that
I’ve always had a variety of opportunities that allowed
me to practice my craft as a jazz drummer, orchestral percussionist,
and improvising world percussionist and now scholar/teacher.
Without the proper contexts to hone your skills in, it’s
difficult to continue as a musician beyond school so I was
always very lucky in that regard. The academic degrees and
teaching are also important to me for the same reason; it’s
a context that allows for continuous study and to develop
my thinking, understanding, research, and writing skills.
SD: Tell us about your seeking out teachers like
Glen Velez and others?
NSR: I studied with many people over the
years. I tend to get intensely curious about something and
get to where I think I can figure it out. For the drumset,
I was with Joe Nevolo in New Jersey during high school and
then being at Berklee and working with John Ramsey, Joe
Hunt, Dave Weigert, Skip Haden, and Ed Uribe, and then with
Keith Copland at Rutgers and privately with Peter Erskine
satisfied my interests. I got a lot together studying with
them. For classical percussion, it was being at William
Paterson and working with Gary Van Dyke and Ray Des Roches
and then William Moersch at Rutgers that gave me a good
understanding of that world. But for world percussion, this
wasn’t something in the 1980s that one could find
out about in jazz and classical percussion departments easily.
So through Richard Graham, he got me connected with Glen
Velez and Naná Vasconcelos but also made sure I knew
who other great players were such as Collin Walcott, Okay
Temiz, Airto Moreira, and many others. Working with Robert
Benford at Rutgers was another great source. He got me deep
into congas, tabla, amadinda, and marimba
improvisation. When I was in Ohio, I met Malcolm Dalglish
and got to study hammer dulcimer from him and Shona mbira
styles from Cosmas Magaya and Chaka Chawasarira. While at
Kent State, I worked with George Crumb. He was really interested
in my instruments and I remember at one point he excused
himself from the composition faculty and came to hang at
my aparment. We pulled out all my instruments and for 3
hours he kept drawing pictures of them and writing the names
down. Then we went out for Thai food! That was an immeasurable
experience. Really, if I think about it, these opportunities
more fell into my lap than me seeking them out. If I hadn’t
grown up close to New York City, I doubt I ever would have
met Naná or Glen and if I hadn’t ended up in
Ohio, I would have never met Malcolm or the Shona teachers.
By going to graduate school in Ohio, I was able to get a
grant to go to India to study Carnatic music so it’s
really been very lucky for me being in the right places
at the right times.
Other teachers that have had an important impact on me
were not percussionists. It was the professors I took classes
with and worked with during those years such as the jazz
trumpet professor William Fielder, who taught me so much
about jazz harmony and the piano, and the composers Noel
Da Costa, Philip Corner, and Daniel Goode at Rutgers, Halim
El-Dabh at Kent State as well as the scholars at Kent State
such as Terry Miller, Robert West, and Bill Kenney that
inspired me as well.
SD: You spent years researching various percussionists
for your Master's thesis. Can you tell us about that and
how it affected you as a musician?
NSR: At Kent State University in Ohio,
again I was very lucky. I got into a program there where
I was offered a job as a student teacher and school would
be free for the master’s degree and Ph.D. My course
of study was ethnomusicology, musicology, and culture studies/American
history. I taught classes on world music so this required
me to think beyond what percussionists are usually concerned
with. I got really into doing research and understanding
more about music and culture from a scholarly point of view.
I was faced with having to come up with a project for the
master’s degree so I developed an idea about improvising
percussionists and how that particular style developed.
This led me to intensely collecting a lot of recordings
and videos of percussionists who played more creatively
in improvising contexts. I spent about 5 years working on
this where I collected every single recording with Glen
Velez, Naná Vasconcelos, Airto Moreira, Okay Temiz,
Trilok Gurtu, Collin Walcott, and many others. This was
around the time that the Internet was happening in the mid-1990s,
so I was able to meet a lot of people around the world and
developed an extensive network of friends who would help
me collect records, books, published interviews, and videos
of these musicians. From this activity, I was able to collect
live videos of each of these musicians from about a 20 year
period each. In processing this information, I was able
to see and learn how they did many of their techniques and
gained an understanding of how they developed a style of
playing from their beginnings until now. Eventually, I was
able to conduct interviews with many of the subjects of
my study and asked them all similar questions to do original
research. Many of my interviews for that project were published
in Modern Drummer and Percussive Notes.
I interviewed Naná Vasconcelos, Glen Velez, Zakir
Hussain, Okay Temiz, John Bergamo, Airto Moreira, Jamey
Haddad, Steve Shehan, Trilok Gurtu, Robert Thomas, Jr.,
and Armen Halburian. I finished my master’s in 2002
(“The New Percussionist in Jazz: Organological and
Technical Expansion”). It really impacted me as a
performing musician because I understood how many of these
musicians were doing what they did, and I absorbed some
of their techniques into my own style. It really made me
a much more flexible percussionist in terms having a wider
range of skills. I occassionally do slide shows at university
residencies on the history of the "New Percussionist."
SD: How did you get focused on frame drumming?
NSR: This was in high school around 1982.
Friends of mine saw Pat Metheny and kept raving about the
percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and the berimbau
he played. That made me curious as to what it was since
they kept talking about it so I began my studies with Richard
Graham, and at my first lesson he showed me riqq,
pandeiro, kalimba, and berimbau,
and I was immediately hooked. We’d have lessons for
3 hours a time, and he was always showing me Arab, West
African, Cuban, and Brazilian musics. Through him, I started
playing tar, bendir, ghaval,
kanjira, pandeiro, riqq, and
lap style bodhran. He was a student of Glen Velez
and told me about Glen. When I was at Berklee College of
Music a few years later, there was a Remo Day of Percussion
and Louis Bellson, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, and
Glen Velez were the artists. I remember running right past
Louis Bellson who stuck his hand out thinking I was greeting
him, and instead I was excited to meet Glen Velez! After
Berklee, I went back to Richard Graham, and he suggested
I take a master class with Glen Velez so I did and he just
blew me away so I started a long and serious period of study
with him. After that I hung out with Arnaldo Vacca when
he was in the US on a few occassions between 1990-1998 and
he helped me out on tamburello a lot, and eventually
I ended up in southern India in 2005-2006 studying kanjira
with Amrit Nataraj and B. Shreesundarkumar.
SD: Can you talk about how you mix finger techniques
from India, the Middle East, and elsewhere?
NSR: This is something that I think is
very common for percussionists in America to do; both native
born and international artists that get involved in American
jazz. I already began doing this when I initially started
with world percussion because as a non-traditional player,
I’m always playing the instruments in contexts that
traditional players don’t get asked to play in very
often. So when I play a berimbau in a jazz context,
I have to tune it and play something that fits that context
and capoeira rhythms aren’t always the best
bet. The same is true for playing congas in modern dance
classes—Latin rhythms do not work—so I’m
forced to be creative to fit the context so that people
will keep calling me back. The USA has always been a creative
place at least musically speaking—with people coming
from all over the world to our urban areas, the cities here
act as zones of cultural interaction so ideas get exchanged
pretty freely. People who have a deep tradition tend to
hold on to it while those that do not often end up creating
their own. I think that’s what started happening in
the US in places like New York in the late-1960s-1970s as
far as the work of percussionists such as Airto Moreira,
Dom um Romão, Collin Walcott, John Bergamo, Naná
Vasconcelos, Glen Velez, Zakir Hussain, and over in Europe
with artists such as Trilok Gurtu and Okay Temiz to mention
just a few. Of course, the Cuban conga players had already
began a similar process of adapting technique and instrumentation
to new contexts with Latin jazz in the 1940s so it’s
more common than one may think. I saw this in many of my
teachers and those that inspired me, and it seemed to be
the way to play at the time I began developing—mixing
instruments and techniques.
I remember clearly one day when it hit me—I thought
Trilok Gurtu and Naná Vasconcelos were coming from
these deep traditions and here I was trying to learn someone
else’s music. I didn’t see much point to dedicating
my life to mimicking music from another culture when the
opportunities to play that music will more often than not
go to players from that tradition. Let’s face it,
the tabla players from India and the conga players
from Cuba will always play Indian and Cuban music better
than those of us who did not grow up with those traditions.
So I thought maybe I should forget it and give this up.
There was an Oregon CD playing, and I heard this amazing
triangle roll and it was Collin Walcott and it suddenly
hit me. Here was a guy who went through this and developed
a uniquely American musical identity with the way he played
tabla, congas, sitar, hammer dulcimer,
sanza, and many other things. If he were my teacher
in the room with me that day telling me what to do –
I don’t think it would have hit me any different than
how hearing his playing at that time did. So I realized
it’s really about what YOU do with YOUR music that
Another thing I tried to do early was adapt my technique
in any way I could to make learning so many different things
easier. I don’t know that this was successful but
I went through a period where I used a similar grip for
drumset and timpani, the same 4-mallet grip on all mallet
instruments, and things like that. I think the most successful
endeavor was spending a lot of time learning drumset, jazz,
and classical percussion because that gave me a foundation
in my own music that made it easier for me to learn other
world percussion. Once I get past the basic techniques of
various world percussion, I have all this vocabulary and
foundation to work with. As I began to learn different drum
techniques, I realized a conga slap works well on a tabla
and vice versa, tabla fingerings can work on a
conga if you know how to get the proper sounds on those
instruments. If you need to play congas in a softer fashion
then adapting the tabla stuff can work. Zakir Hussain
does that all the time, and he knows how to do the proper
strokes on congas. I’ve seen him use a conga slap
on a tabla drum in old Shakti videos and it works
quite well—particularly if you need to play tabla
in a louder context. Of course, when you do this, you have
to adapt the techniques to the instruments so principles
of technique remain the same but you have to adapt the stroke
often to the instrument. Traditional players don’t
often seem to do this if they pick up a frame drum for the
first time; they just play it like a tabla and
don’t always get the best sound right away.
Another big issue for me was rhythmic ideas. Using Carnatic
ideas about rhythm on congas or West African ideas about
rhythm on frame drums, things like that work quite well.
But I think without the proper context to use those ideas,
you won’t develop them, and I’ve always been
lucky in having creative contexts to develop the way I play.
SD: Why did you start the North American Frame
Drum Association, Inc. (NAFDA), and tell us about the frame
drum events you produce, and also how NAFDA has spread around
the USA and Canada?
NSR: The idea of frame drum festivals
was starting to happen in Europe in the early 2000s, and
I could never go because they always happened around the
time of final exams when I was teaching. So it was really
out of frustration that I could never go to these and the
idea of missing opportunities to meet players I was interested
in. I started talking to some friends about the idea and
trying to figure out how to put on a festival. In late 2007,
I came up with the name and began the process of legally
incorporating in the state of Maryland and then getting
IRS recognized as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit volunteer corporation.
It was pretty frustrating having to learn how to do all
this practically on my own as far as the legal stuff was
concerned but I pulled it off before the first festival
in 2008 in New Jersey. There was a small crew of people
that were working on the festivals in NJ each year, which
were very successful but putting on large events like that
was too draining. I realized it was much easier working
on smaller events in various regions and with people local
in those areas to help NAFDA grow so we started doing them
in other areas. Within a year there were 6 festivals around
the USA and Canada and NAFDA is in its fourth year now having
produced 11 festivals so far. It’s a ton of work but
the response from the community has been very positive.
A lot of the younger players now have a place to play and
get exposed and it evens out the playing field in terms
of giving more people chances at these festivals than existed
before so it’s been well worth the effort. Cooperman
and Remo have been very strong supporters of NAFDA (http://www.nafda1.com).
I think this model is very sustainable now given the huge
economic changes that have occurred.
SD: You recently spent time in India studying the
kanjira. Can you tell us about that trip and what
NSR: Once again, I was faced with a project
for my Ph.D. in musicology-ethnomusicology. From having
done the master’s project, I knew this would have
to be something I was passionate about to see it through.
I came up with this idea of trying to document the history
of the kanjira, where it came from, how it developed,
and what kinds of changes occurred in classical music in
southern India that allowed for new instruments to be incorporated
into Carnatic music. I realized that the incorporation of
percussion instruments such as the kanjira and
ghatam into Carnatic music was part of a larger
process that included instruments such as the violin, alto
saxophone, and mandolin. I received a grant soon after I
started teaching at Towson University to work on this so
I was off to India for 5 months in 2005-2006.
It was really a life changing experience to do ethnomusicological
field work in a country such as India. I spent much of that
time by myself dealing with both cultural frustrations and
intense interest in being there. I studied with many people
while there for tabla, morsing, ghatam,
mridangam, kanjira, and solkattu.
I was really feeling that the connectedness of these instruments
wasn’t very clear to musicians outside of India so
I felt this was necessary for my study. In terms of researching
the history of the kanjira, it was very difficult
because it’s not documented very well. I was lucky
to have a sizeable grant so I travelled all over the north
and south to museums, libraries and local areas to investigate
this. I was doing herpetology to identify the species of
lizard that the skin comes from, looking at what’s
used for jingles, and shell construction, and historical
issues such as how these things changed over the years.
Some of the things I found out were surprising such as the
shape of the shell. It wasn’t always curved. That’s
a more recent phenomenon due to the influx of power tools
and lathes. Kanjira’s were mainly made with
hand tools prior to the 1980s and the shells were much thinner
and less uniform from maker to maker from what I could see
in museums and personal collections. The handmade instruments
are much easier to play! The ones made since the 1980s are
much more uniform and thicker in the shell and they feature
that curved shape now.
I think musically, one of the most important things for
me personally was learning the theories of how to calculate
and construct korvais and other types of Carnatic
rhythmic phrasing. This wasn’t something that was
easily explained to me by any one person. I had to go to
many teachers and ask the same questions over and over to
try to get to the bottom of this. Of course, in India you’re
not supposed to go to more than one teacher so it was difficult
going to meet with 30 plus musicians—many of whom
expect you to come back each day for lessons!
In terms of my project, I found enough to reconstruct a
history of how this instrument developed and spread. The
evidence I have found supports my ideas but because of the
lack of proper documentation, I don’t know that the
kanjira will ever have as solid a history as something
like a piano.
A particular life changing event by going to India was
meeting a beautiful and talented singer there who eventually
became my wife—K.S. Resmi! I guess you could say I
got more than I came for!
“N. Scott Robinson: Percussionist
with a Worldview—Part 2”
By Scott Davidson for World Percussion
& Rhythm 12, no. 1 (Spring 2011), 14-15.
SD: How did you get involved in playing for Native
American flutist Mark Holland?
NSR: We met at the very first International
Native American Flute Association (INAFA) Conference about
12 years ago. This was another one of those lucky things
that fell in my lap while I was in Ohio of all places. One
of the ethnomusicology students there was involved in Native
American flute and put on this conference and all of the
best players from around the USA came to Kent, Ohio. On
the last night they wanted to do a jam session and asked
if a percussionist was available so I got the call to play
with people like R. Carlos Nakai, Mark Holland, Peter Phippen,
and Gary Stroutsos—all of whom I’ve had opportunities
to play with since. Mark and I particularly fit very well
together. Our first show as a duo in 1999 was entirely improvised,
recorded, and released as a CD. We realized we could follow
each other well and playing with him required a lot of variety
on my part. It’s another one of those contexts in
which I have to play frame drums of all sorts, mbira
dza vadzimu, berimbau, sanza, cajon,
udu, tabla, and all kinds of things so
it’s very good for my particular range of skills.
SD: Tell us about your new CD Wind & Fire
with Mark Holland.
NSR: The CD Wind & Fire by
Mark Holland and myself came out in April 2009. So far we’ve
toured to 15 states and have sold nearly 900 copies all
on our own. The Public Radio International FM station Echoes
by John Diliberto played it regularly for about 5 months
and listeners voted the CD #10 for Best CDs of 2009 and
#164 for Best 200 CDs on Echoes Programming in
Last 20 Years. One of the pieces I composed for that CD,
"Meeting," won an Indian Summer Music Award (Native
Spirit category). The CD is a little different from the
typical Native American flute CDs out there. Ours has a
ton of variety. Mark Holland plays many types of Native
American flutes both single and dual chambered as well as
an Anasazi flute, and he plays Indian bansuri,
Chinese dizi, and Andean quena. I play
about 30 instruments including didjeridu, donso
ngoni (harp from Mali), tabla, bodhran
(lap style), ghaval, riqq, kanjira,
berimbau (3), mbira dza vadzimu, sanza,
udu, and do some vocal tracks as well. Most of
the recording was done in a long weekend and many of the
tracks are first takes. I found out that the more tired
you get, you seem to make economical choices in the studio
in terms of chance-taking and improvisation. We were really
surprised how much music we got recorded in so little time.
There are a few solo pieces that each of us did with overdubbing
ourselves so that took more time but within 2 months we
had a new CD and hit the road.
SD: What solo recordings have you produced, and
what musical projects are you currently involved in?
NSR: I have 2 of my own recordings out—World
View (1994) and Things That Happen Fast (2001)—these
are mainly my own compositions and feature me on a variety
of instruments. There are also 2 CDs with Mark Holland as
a duo and one with his quartet Autumn’s Child. Currently,
I work with Mark Holland in our duo Wind & Fire, and
we will be doing our second CD in spring 2012. I also work
with the Jeff Ball Band, and we have 2 CDs out recently.
There’s a wonderful CD that came out in April 2010
by the classical guitarist Aris Quiroga called Esperanto
on which I play an assortment of world percussion on all
classical guitar compositions—that was an amazing
project. Malcolm Dalglish continues to write a huge amount
of interesting choral music with folk and world influences
that involve me in concerts and recordings in many parts
of the USA. I just worked with the composer Michael Colgrass
on a huge piece of his for flute and 4 percussionists at
Towson University. One of the percussionists, Patrick Roulet,
asked me to play some of the music of Michael Colgrass for
his CD project due out soon. There’s a rock CD out
by a Vietnamese-American artist named Carol Bui that I play
a lot of riqq on. That was a challenge to come
up with something that supported that music but it definitely
worked. This summer, I’ll be working on tracks for
jazz guitarist Larry Barbee’s new CD. Since last year
I’ve been working on a triple CD project with an amazing
guitarist and writer from New Jersey, Dennis Haklar. The
project involves Larry Coryell and Jon Anderson to some
degree and the music is an eclectic mix of progressive rock,
world-jazz, and ambient music. The way people record these
days almost requires you to be an engineer yourself. I’ve
had to put a digital recording studio in my house to keep
up with demands for tracks on projects from people who live
too far to travel for.
SD: You have composed many pieces for frame drums
and percussion. Can you discuss a few of them?
NSR: To date I’ve composed 13 pieces
that are published in score form. Around 2000, I started
doing solo concerts as I felt that was a huge challenge
for someone just playing world percussion instruments. I
saw Glen Velez and Naná Vasconcelos do it, and I
had live tapes of Collin Walcott doing them so I knew it
was possible. As I did more and more solo concerts, I found
that little ideas I used for improvisation became larger
frameworks and were more or less set into a structure. After
I released my 2nd CD, Things That Happen Fast,
I thought that some of the solo pieces I was doing for frame
drums would be good etudes for percussionists to learn technical
aspects of the modern way we play frame drums in the USA.
I painstakingly notated every bit of 5 pieces I did on that
CD and a publisher took them right away. The response was
huge. I was selling at least 1 score a week for at least
5-6 years all over the world. For this kind of music, I
was really surprised. Soon after that I began to get commissions
from percussion faculty at various universities for ensemble
pieces. So far there have been 6 commissions completed.
My favorite one is “Bear Talk”—a duet
for Brazilian pandeiro that has interlocking rhythms
in 5 & 9 beats. This piece uses older techniques for
lifting and turning the pandeiro that are different
from the current funky style of playing where the drum is
constantly in motion. Another favorite is “Trio for
Ogun”—this is for 3 congas and 3 conch shells.
The drums interlock and the shell parts make an interlocking
countermelody. Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble performed
this piece at PASIC a few years ago, and they did it flawlessly.
I have 2 pieces for solkattu and frame drum ensemble—“Interior
Design” and “Carnatic Variations.”
SD: You have an amazing website, with a lot of
information about frame drums. What is the URL and tell
me more about your site?
NSR: The website is http://www.nscottrobinson.com.
It was another one of those things that seemed like something
a musician needed. Like a business card, a CD, and then
a website so I was lucky to meet an energetic designer,
Chris Sampson, who was starting off in 1999. He gave me
an incredible deal and took a lot of ideas I had and built
it. I think what was smart was learning how to update and
add to it myself right off the bat. I thought no one in
the world really knows about me so if I put up a lot of
useful information about instruments for which there was
little or nothing online at that time—various frame
drums, berimbau, mbira—it would
be useful to people. That’s how it started. Then I
put interviews up and information about all kinds of instruments
with sound samples. It was pretty early on when the Internet
was just happening so it was another good thing at the right
time. The response has been tremendous. When I travel to
different pats of the world I meet a lot of people who say
they use the site regularly, and I never get over the shock
of realizing how much of a resource my website turned out
to be. Recently, I’ve added a new section called SHOP
in which I have high quality instruments from different
parts of the world available for order. Great makers such
as Cooperman frame drums in Vermont, Peterman stomp boxes
in Australia, an electric berimbau maker in Brazil, ceramic
percussion from Descarga Percussion in Greece, kalimbas
from Anklang Percussion in Germany, the Black Swan drum
from Swan Percussion in Texas, and custom made tuned udus
from Buffalo Moon Flutes in Texas—these companies
send me stock to sell for them on my site so it’s
been a good way to get people to know about these smaller
companies that make really great stuff.
SD: Tell us about how your involvement with the
Percussive Arts Society has helped you with networking and
meeting musicians from around the world.
NSR: I’ve been going to PASIC on
and off since 1990 and been reading the journal since the
mid-1980s. When I first went it was a huge opportunity to
meet percussionists from all over—in that first one
I went to in 1990 that’s where I met Arnaldo Vacca,
Jamey Haddad, John Bergamo, and you! Back then people hung
more and the artists consciously sought moments to play
together. Now it’s a different scene with the drum
circles being the main purpose to get together so many of
the artists don’t come for that. I haven’t seen
a world percussion jam session in almost 10 years at a PASIC.
But at the same time, PASIC has been an important annual
trip to Mecca for me in terms of meeting percussion companies
and university percussion faculty. Almost every year I go,
I get offered an endorsement or residency, and it’s
really the website that’s helping promote that and
attract these opportunities.
Networking with musicians is happening more on the festival
scene for me now. It’s difficult to get involved with
that with any regularity if you’re not really high
profile but I do them now and again. It was amazing to go
to South Korea and meet an Irish musician who ended up dropping
my name for a festival in Ireland. That’s really been
an important development for me. I’ve been over to
South Korea 5 times, Italy, Greece, Germany (each twice),
Canada, Japan 3 times, Australia, and in those trips I meet
people who become important for helping to create other
opportunities for international performance. When I was
invited to Greece for a frame drum festival, one of the
students was a pandereta player from Spain, Jonás
Gimeno. I learned how to play pandereta [tambourine
from Spain] from him. I ended up inviting him to a NAFDA
festival a year later, and we met up in Germany in August
2009 and 2o11 for Tamburi Mundi festivals.
I have all these friends now in different parts of the
world that I see only once in a while and always for a musical
context. It feels like having brothers you really respect
that inspire you. People like David Kuckhermann, Andrea
Piccioni, Bruno Spagna, Shekufeh Pariab, Jonás Gimeno,
Murat Coskun, Amrit Nataraj, B. Shreesundarkumar, Yshai
Afterman, Aleix Tobias, Roberto Chiga, and others really
inspire me when we get together. I think the younger players
are an example of the newer culture of mutual support that
the Internet has created in the last 12 years or so. They’re
really a lot less competitive and much more into supporting
one another than many of the older generation of players
out there. I’m sort of in the middle—a little
older but not too old that I didn’t notice this and
become inspired by it. On many occassions, I have found
a lot of them to be much more refined performers so it's
both humbling and inspiring. It’s like finding your
place and what you’re supposed to do in the world
and that non-competitive, largely egoless culture of the
younger music makers has really resonated with me.
For more about N. Scott Robinson and his music, please
visit http://www.nscottrobinson.com, http://www.youtube.com/nscottrob,
2 - "Interview with N. Scott
Robinson: Master Hand Percussionist."
By Mark Holdaway for Kalimba Magic News 2, no.
2 (1 March 2007).
KM: This month's interview is with N. Scott Robinson,
a master of hand percussion. Scott, you've got a great kalimba/mbira
NSR: Thanks so much! I'm
working on getting some more tunings up there. Joel Laviolette
is going to help me with a few of the missing tunings from
Zimbabwean instruments. He's traveled all over Mozambique
and Zimbabwe and plays many types of traditional mbira.
His website has recordings of types such as chi-sanza,
munyonga, mbira dza VaNdau, and others.
KM: Scott, you play a lot of different
percussion instruments at a very high level—but
instead of starting in on the kalimba, I'd like
to ask you about the tambourine. One might recall images
of the singer absent-mindedly hitting the tambourine against
their hip. But you treat the tambourine as a serious instrument.
NSR: In my senior year
of high school, I knew I wanted to study music seriously.
My main instrument was drumset so I began investigating
as many styles of music as I could that drumset was used
in—society, rock, funk, jazz, Latin, etc. I felt that
I didn't have a chance of being accepted in a college music
program unless I played every style of percussion so I began
investigating percussion in classical music with timpani
and xylophone studies, studied piano to get music theory
together, and I pursued ethnic percussion as part of this
Richard Graham lived in a neighborhood
near me on the New Jersey shore and was recommended, so
I went to him and told him I wanted to learn everything
I could. It must have sounded crazy at the time as I really
had no idea of what I was really trying to accomplish but
he introduced me to a whole other world of percussion. Richard
Graham was a professional who had studied or played with
all of the greats from Airto Moreira, Naná Vasconcelos,
Collin Walcott, Badal Roy, to Glen Velez, Dom um Romão,
Guilherme Franco, Armen Halburian, Babetunde Olatunji, as
well as many of the great Latin percussionists. He was a
guy who knew a lot and shared everything with me. At our
first lesson (I was about 17); he showed me the kalimba,
berimbau, riq, and pandeiro.
I was just knocked out by these instruments, their sounds,
techniques, and musical possibilities.
I studied with Richard for about a year
and he did everything for me. Besides showing me music,
he took me to record stores, places to get instruments in
New York (there weren’t any companies making much
besides Latin stuff in those days), to libraries and showed
me what books to read. From him, I got the basics on many
kinds of percussion styles and an approach to being creative.
I ended up at Berklee College of Music
for a while where I was surprised no one played the instruments
I knew about. At that time (1983-1984), there were few teachers
that knew about some of the more exotic frame drums like
the riq. I saw Glen Velez in Boston, and he just
lit a fire of interest in me like few have done before.
After Berklee, I went to William Paterson College in NJ
in 1985 where I studied classical percussion and played
briefly with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble. I ran into
the same thing there. The only time I saw anyone with a
kalimba was a piano player who had to play one
in a George Crumb piece. When I returned to NJ, Richard
Graham suggested I go study with Glen Velez so I did and
he was very much like Richard to me. He was a real guide
in my musical development in a way that impacted other parts
of my life.
I think my attraction to playing tambourines
intensified around this time. I can remember clearly listening
to an Oregon piece with Collin Walcott and just crying because
it sounded so beautiful. I realized I would never be able
to play something that was considered beautiful on a drumset.
But the ethnic percussion was a path for me to reach that
goal of playing something that reflected beauty, was more
personal, and was at a higher level of musicianship than
I was capable of on a drumset.
For me, the tambourines and frame drums
offer such a rich assortment of timbres on a small, soft
instrument on which I use my fingers as opposed to a large
assortment of loud instruments struck with sticks. It fit
my quiet personality more so than the drumset did so those
kinds of instruments became my focus. The other thing that
was going on was my mixing rhythmic and technical ideas
on all of these instruments and drumset and jazz were big
components in what I was developing on tambourines and the
other ethnic percussion.
KM: Scott, you are into the frame
drum and the kalimba—have you seen the Sansula?
It is a kalimba permanently mounted on a frame
NSR: Yes, I have seen
this combo. It works quite well. I started using a large
frame drum as a resonator for my kalimba back in
1988 when I was playing for modern dance classes at Rutgers
University. If you tune the drum to go with your kalimba
tuning, it responds a bit better. The drum increases the
resonance and volume quite a bit.
KM: So, your personal musical path
seems to deal with beauty and subtlety. That leads us to
NSR: My first kalimba
was a Kenyan tourist model that was tuned to a pentatonic
scale. My instruction on it was how to play in a creative
personal way—not how to play any traditional music
from Africa. Plus I had a role model at the time for doing
that type of approach. I was listening to Collin Walcott’s
recordings with Codona and Oregon where he played a sanza
tuned pentatonically [this tuning is at the end of the
interview]. His instrument was actually a kondi
from Sierra Leon. I soon became frustrated with the simple
instrument I had and was trying to emulate what I was hearing
on those recordings. I got a Hugh Tracey alto kalimba
and took half the keys off and retuned it and put on some
buzzers. It wasn’t any closer to what I heard on those
recordings but it was a world of difference in terms of
sound quality, pitch, and what I could do with the instrument.
That was my main kalimba for many years and it
still is for improvising. I experimented with different
tunings but the one I use most is a minor pentatonic tuning.
The other thing that happened to me was once I set out on
this path of developing a personal and creative approach
to using these instruments, I had always found myself in
musical contexts where this approach was desired. I played
a lot of jazz over the years and jazz musicians were always
open and flexible musically to new ideas. There were several
musicians that I would pull the kalimba out for
and we would improvise special musical moments together.
The other context was working with modern dance for about
11 years at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This required
me to improvise in very unusual tempi and rhythmic structures,
and the kalimba worked very well for that.
KM: I have started taking half
the tines off of the Hugh Tracey treble kalimba,
leaving 9—I call this the Treblito. But you take half
the tines off of the alto, leaving 8. How did you tune your
alto with 8 tines?
NSR: Richard Graham showed
my how take the 15 notes alto kalimba and take
7 notes off and retune it to a pentatonic minor scale. Then
we put buzzers on the back ends of the lamellae. It was
really an attempt to copy what Collin Walcott was doing
with the sanza. I used to keep it in Ab but found
I could sing better by lowering it to G. All of my instruments
are set up to be played starting with the left hand in the
center and alternating L, R, L, R, etc. to go up the scale.
So the tuning I use on it is G, Bb, C, D, F natural, G,
Bb, C. I sometimes change one note in the scale to have
a different mode.
KM: All of my kalimbas
are set up to be played starting with the right hand in
the center. I'm right handed. Are you left handed?
NSR: Yes! But I do play
most things right handed. For me, setting up the kalimba
this way makes it more like a piano with my accompaniment
patterns on the left side (like the bass of the piano) and
the melody or improve stuff on the right side.
KM: It seems you have a fundamentally
rhythmic way of playing kalimba. How do you also
approach the melodic and harmonic aspects of the kalimba
as an instrument?
NSR: While I was a student
in jazz and classical music programs at Rutgers University
in 1989-1994, I realized that what I was doing on the kalimba
was mainly rhythmic and modal. I was always careful about
tuning each lamella precisely and knowing what pitch I was
playing, what mode I was in, and if I was in tune with the
other musicians. Often, when I heard other percussionists
play kalimbas, they would approach it like it were
a marimba in terms of playing it melodically in a one note
at a time linear fashion. This never really appealed to
me because these types of instruments usually have a limited
range of notes and are physically arranged in a way that
makes it easy to have multiple things going on simultaneously
on each side of the instrument. I find it a little awkward
to play it purely as a melodic instrument. When I listened
to Collin Walcott, I realized that he was also playing in
multiple rhythmic style where his right fingers would play
a groove on the right side of the instrument and his left
fingers would play interlocking patterns on the left side
in between what was happening on the right side of the instrument.
The resultant parts give the ear the impression that a melody
is being played but it is arrived at by playing rhythms.
So that is how I deal with melodies on my pentatonic instruments,
including my Hugh Tracey. I play it polyrhythmically and
modally and the interlocking parts of my hands result in
melodic material because the lamellae are tuned to pitches.
As I became more curious about others types
of lamellophones and their tunings, I tried to find recordings
of as many traditional African types as I could from Tanzania,
Sierra Leon, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe. I have
always felt that what many of the traditional sub-Saharan
African players are doing is similar in that they play their
instruments in a rhythmic fashion as accompaniment to a
vocal melody. Some of the traditional musics I was checking
out had harmonic patterns, so in Shona karimba
and mbira dza vadzimu music I was hearing this
but found that the overall approach seemed to be about interlocking
I have become more attracted in recent
years to working creatively with some of the traditional
instruments in Zimbabwe of the Shona and Kore Kore peoples
such as the mbira dza vadzimu, karimba, and matepe
respectively. These instruments have an increased range
of sometimes as much as 3 octaves and are tuned in ways
that are not pentatonic. I had also been improvising on
the piano for modern dance classes and had some training
in jazz harmony and composition so I understood chord structures
and melodic relationships to them. It wasn’t until
I started going through B. Michael Williams’ book
on mbira dza vadzimu that I realized the heptatonic-tuned
instruments are really like a piano in terms of having one
hand play a repetitive pattern in the bass register and
the other play something melodic on the other side in a
higher register. What the Shona players do is more complicated
than that, but after learning a few karimba and
mbira dza vadzimu songs, I started working with
those instruments as if they were a piano and developed
a way to improvise on them and wrote a few pieces. Again,
I had a context in which to use this kind of playing and
was using these instruments and style with Native American
flute players R. Carlos Nakai, Mark Holland, Gary Stroutsos,
Jeff Ball, and Peter Phippen. I got a few solid body, fully
electric, stereo mbira dza vadzimu from Dan Pauli
who often puts extra lamellae on so one thing I want to
do is work more with original songs while playing these.
My latest obsession though is working with an electric ilimba
that David Bellinger made for me that has a 4 octave range
and a lot of sympathetic lamellae.
When I work with composer and hammer dulcimer
player Malcolm Dalglish, it’s a different story. He
writes music for choirs with hammer dulcimer and ethnic
percussion accompaniment and his instrument and the voices
often occupy the higher timbral end of the music spectrum.
I find myself often trying to be a bass player in the context
of his music by using tuned frame drums, udus,
and sanzas to play something in the bass range.
He really likes some of my sanzas and asks me to
play them often in his pieces but he has a lot of traditional
counterpoint going on so there are a lot of chord changes.
This makes me have to tune my pentatonic instruments in
unusual ways so I have all the pitches and have to play
in a way that is unnatural for me to accommodate all the
chord changes. The end result is that it sounds great, but
I have to really concentrate like an orchestral percussionist
in terms of being prepared and executing the parts. It sometimes
requires me to start a phrase with my left hand and then
suddenly start a new one with the right hand or do odd doublings
in some places to execute the part.
So despite my developing a personal approach
to playing these kinds of instruments for improvising, I
have always had to be flexible musically to adapt to other
creative musical contexts that required non-traditional
uses of various kalimba, sanza, and mbira.
There are 17 instruments
in the above pic:
Left from back forward:
mbira dza vadzimu (Dongonda tuning)
in deze, trio set of mbira dza vadzimu
made by Newton Gwara, next to these are 3 more mbira
dza vadzimu in different tunings (all from Zimbabwe).
Front center: stereo
electric solid body bass mbira dza vadzimu by Dan
Hugh Tracey alto kalimba (custom tuning), David
Bellinger electric kalimba in Kalimba Magic case.
nyunga nyunga (on top of Kalimba Magic case, Zimbabwe).
Cuban marimbula by Dan Yeager, David Bellinger
electric ilimba (on top, Tanzania).
In front of marimbula
from left to right: sanza, kondi by Rich
Goodhart (Sierra Leone, on top, the Collin Walcott sanza),
budongo from Uganda, matepe from Zimbabwe
by Chaka Chawasarira.
N. Scott Robinson's
Electric Array Mbira by Bill Wesley & Patrick
KM: Tell us a bit more about your
Dave Bellinger ilimba?
NSR: David Bellinger makes
fabulous instruments! My David Bellinger electric ilimba
is just one of my prized possessions! It has a double keyboard
layout side by side, which is common on instruments from
Tanzania. I was drawn to Dr. Hukwe Ubi Zawose's music on
ilimba and chirimba, but couldn't find
much info on him and his instruments. When I spoke to David,
he told me he met a researcher who knew Zawose and got his
tuning just before he died so I asked David Bellinger to
build me an electric version of Zawose's instrument, which
has over 50 lamellae. I didn't think he'd be able to come
close but he made me just about an exact copy of the Zawose
ilimba with a pick up. Mine has 40 lamellae but
you only play 20. You play on the outsides of each keyboard
and the inner lamellae are all sympathetic so you don't
play those. They respond by singing out when you play on
the outside areas. The tuning is pentatonic but in traditional
intervals to Tanzanian Wagogo music so the intonation does
not match Western tuning. There is a chart on my website
that shows the tuning. Still it has a 4 octave range which
is much larger than I ever had on a pentatonic instrument.
It has metal bridges and great brass buzzers and the box
is huge. Acoustically, it is very loud and even and that
tuning has such a magical sound. Plugged into an amp, it
plays like no other instrument I have ever touched. I use
a technique on this instrument that works quite well because
of the large range. Instead of always alternating my hands
(L, R, L, R, etc.), I play in unison but in opposite directions.
That means my left hand goes up the keyboard while my right
hand goes down and then I interject rapid passages by alternating
my hands (L, R, L, R, etc.). Now when I listen to Zawose's
recordings, I can find little pieces of what he does by
having this instrument in my hands so I am slowly figuring
out some of his music.
KM: So, you have an Array Mbira.
I would think the Array Mbira is probably something
like the Hammered Dulcimer, at least in the way I would
play it—find patterns that corresponded to various
kinds of chords or chord progressions, or riffs within some
chord, learn how to transpose, etc. SO, it is the same sort
of thing as a kalimba—something with its
own internal logic that we can interact with to create beauty.
NSR: Yes. I just bought
an array mbira. It's not really like a dulcimer
as those are mostly diatonic but have a different layout
than the left to right keyboard arrangement. The array is
more like a lead steel pan with a circle of fifths chromatic
arrangement but in a straight line like a keyboard and not
haphazard like a steel pan.
I think you're right about the inherent
beauty of kalimbas and finding ways to play them.
I play most of my pentatonic ones in a rhythmic fashion
as that's what I hear on a lot of traditional recordings
- rhythm and melody. The ones tuned to more 6-7 pitch tunings
have some harmonic patterns so I tend to play those that
way. Personally, I find when there is a lot of harmony,
it limits what you can do rhythmically or it gets in the
way sometimes as you have to play only certain notes at
certain times and only when the chords change. Music based
on rhythm and melody (like African or Indian or Middle Eastern)
for me is more free.
KM: Scott—I hear that primacy
of the rhythm and melody in your recordings. But my personal
music puts at least as much emphasis on the harmonic elements—you
sort of define the matrix against the melody rhythmically,
while I do it mainly harmonically. I understand it isn't
traditional (Andrew Tracey reminds me that African music
doesn't have chords).
NSR: I am interested in
the Array Mbira because I want to be able to play
chord changes and explore more of that kind of playing but
don't want to be limited to a diatonic or pentatonic tuning.
It's also the background of a person's musicianship. I started
out as a drummer and learned piano later. I think guitar
has a lot to offer in learning how to use chords with patterns
and shapes. That's what is so great about kalimba—you
hardly ever find someone else who does exactly what you
do. Every person I meet that plays has a different approach
to the same instrument. It's pretty cool!
KM: You play a lot of pentatonic
kalimba—I am a diatonic
guy myself, as I really do like the chords. Meanwhile, you
are reaching for the full compliment of western notes on
your Array Mbira. Do you ever feel limited on the
NSR: One of the things
I don't like about pentatonic instruments that go beyond
an octave and 1/2 is that all the left hand bass notes end
up on the right side in the second octave. I have to greatly
adjust my playing on kalimbas that go beyond an
octave and 1/2 when playing in the more rhythmic style that
KM: That's where I like them the
best. For an even number of unique notes in the scale, you
end up repeating the same patterns on the same sides if
you go up or down an octave, for an odd number (5 for the
pentatonic, 7 unique notes for the diatonic scale) the upper
octave is the mirror image of the lower octave. This opens
up a lot of possibilities. Scott, I'm impressed that you've
studied with some great people. I myself have never studied
kalimba with anyone, and I feel I'm a bit of an
orphan. Do you feel your kalimba and mbira
music is grounded in tradition?
NSR: My style of playing
was pretty much self arrived at. My teachers helped me by
explaining how the instrument works and by showing me a
few pieces to play on the various instruments I studied.
My interest was in developing how to improvise on them and
beyond Richard Graham showing me a few things Collin Walcott
did, I just developed it myself. I think we both went through
a similar process. We both have a solid foundation in music
(me in drumming and you in guitar) and draw on that foundation
in applying what we know to the instrument. Because of our
different backgrounds, we came up with different results
in playing style. I think it is important to have some kind
of foundation if you are creative. Some people have tried
to learn my style but didn't have much of a developed background
in music to draw on so it was difficult getting ideas across.
Thank you, Scott!
Here is part of Scott's resume.
If you are looking for ideas of what music or what exotic
kalimbas to buy, this is probably a good starting
Scott studied with:
Richard Graham - kalimba (in Collin
Nolan Warden - 15 lamellae Shona karimba
Cosmas Magaya - Shona mbira dza vadzimu
Chaka Chawasarira - Shona mbira dza vadzimu, 15
lamellae karimba, and Kore Kore matepe
Collin Walcott's sanza playing
on recordings by Codona and Oregon
Dr. Hukewe Ubi Zawose's Tanzanian Wagogo ilimba
and chirimba playing on his recordings
B. Michael Williams' book on playing mbira dza vadzimu
Paul Berliner's book on his experiences researching various
mbira in Zimbabwe in the 1970s
Mbira and kalimbas
Hugh Tracey alto kalimba (custom
David Bellinger electric kalimba and electric ilimba
Bill Wesley & Patrick Hadley's array mbira
(4 octave chromatic model)
Dan Yeager marimbula
Dan Pauli stereo solid body electric mbira dza vadzimu
Chaka Chawasarira matepe
Rich Goodhart sanza (copy of Collin Walcott's sanza,
which is a kondi from Sierra Leon)
Ugandan budongo, Shona mbira dza vadzimu
in various tunings by Shona makers Newton Gwara & Sam
Bvure, and 15 lamellae nyunga nyunga (karimba)
of the Zimbabwe College of Music.
Collin Walcott's Sansa
NSR: Collin Walcott's
sanza playing with the group Codona is on the tune
“Mumakata” on the CD Codona and also
on “Hey Da Ba Doom” on Codona 3. With
the group Oregon, he plays it on "Buzzbox" on
the CD In Performance. It's in a pretty low E tuning
(E, F# A, B, D, E, F#, A). There is a picture of his instrument
on my website in the gallery marked sanza. The
can with the strap is his axe.
KM: About Collin's tuning: If you
start on D it is D E F# A B—the major pentatonic scale.
BUT the tuning does not have a complete D to D major pentatonic,
so that interpretation is de-emphasized. The relative minor
is B, or B D E F# A B—but AGAIN the complete scale
from B to B isn't there. How do YOU understand this tuning?
NSR: In terms of traditional
African musics, they don't have this kind of theory that
underlies their music making like we have in the West so
you can't really look at such scales purely in Western terms.
In figuring it out, Rich Goodhart helped me. He studied
with Collin Walcott and built a copy of his sanza,
which is really a kondi from Sierra Leone. The tuning is
the same as is used on the Gambian donso ngoni 6-string
harp that kora player Foday Musa Suso showed me.
It's a pentatonic tuning centered on E but it is built of
intervals we don't commonly use as a scale in the West.
It's basically a major scale without the 3rd and the 6th
scale degrees but with the 7th flatted.
KM: OK, I see this scale now: E-F#,
then A-B, and D-E are each whole steps, but from the F#
to the A is a step and a half, as is from B to D.
NSR: Yes, it is like the
Indonesian idea of a pelog tuning in that it is
a 5 note scale made up from non-equidistant intervals. The
major pentatonic scale is more of a scale built from equidistant
1 - "N. Scott Robinson: Worldwide
Interview by Iasen Kazandjiev for Ethno, Art, and World
Music (1 November 2002), published in Bulgaria.
IK: How do you feel about yourself as a musician
and composer who works in the world music field?
NSR: I don't take myself
so seriously as to be called a "composer." I do
create a lot of my own music but I construct pieces mainly
as vehicles for improvisation and feel I am much better
at collaborating than composing by myself. As a musician,
I have been interested in so many different things and have
learned a lot of different kinds of instruments. My interests
are in creative music that features improvising on the variety
of percussion instruments I play. There are very few styles
of music where I could really use my skills but "world
music" is particularly satisfying to me because of
the variety of sound and musical choices available to the
performer or composer. The term "world music"
is often used by ethnomusicologists to refer to the world's
traditional ethnic musics but in jazz, this term is sometimes
used to describe a mixing of jazz with music and instruments
from around the world. The jazz "world music"
is how I use the term here.
IK: How would you describe your
NSR: When I was younger
I had a lot of experience doing different things such as
orchestra, rock, jazz, Brazilian, Arabic, West African,
Indian, modern dance, and other styles. Out of everything
I had studied, I spent the most time studying jazz, classical
percussion, and South Indian frame drumming. I have always
felt that no matter how little I studied something, there
was always something different about rhythm or hand technique
that I absorbed. By the early 1990s, I started to realize
that I had a very mixed way of putting ideas about rhythm
and technique for hand drumming together. My music balances
my various influences from jazz, classical, and world musics.
I use a variety of instruments and usually change them from
piece to piece to maximize the variety of sounds. Improvising
is also an important aspect of my music. Like jazz, I like
to have a structure to improvise on but I want to work with
different rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and instruments
than is typical in jazz. The social aspect of making music
is very important to me. I usually have certain friends
in mind when I construct a piece and have always felt that
the better you get along with someone socially, then the
chances of having a meaningful experience making music together
will be increased.
IK: What are your plans for the
NSR: There are several
different things pulling me in different directions. I have
had interest from a German label called United One Records,
and since 2003 they have released both of my CDs globally.
First, my CD called World View and then later,
my newest one called Things That Happen Fast. HoneyRock
Publishing has just published the sheet music to six of
my pieces from these CDs. I enjoy teaching a lot and am
now teaching at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. I
have been getting a lot of requests to take part in performances
and CD projects in the USA, Korea, Japan, France, Bulgaria,
Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. I have been feeling
for a long time now that Europe is a place I must go and
spend some time. There seems to be much better interest
and possibilities there for the kind of music I do than
in the USA. One of the things I hope to start on soon is
an instructional DVD about hand drumming and various tambourine
styles. I have music composed and ready for my third CD,
Hands All Over, which I will begin recording in
the future. Composing is something I look forward to developing.
I am working on some more pieces for frame drums and two
commissions at the moment.
IK: What do you think about the fusion between music styles,
especially world fusion?
NSR: I am really attracted
to the fusion of ideas and instruments from different kinds
of music and culture. I grew up at a time when this was
quite common in the USA so the view that one has so much
to choose from is the way I approach music. The problem
is finding the proper context to continue this kind of music-making.
The music business is really saturating people with the
same kinds of music to the point that very meaningful kinds
of music have been very under-exposed for a long time now.
I think people will respond to something new when they find
out that there is so much more to choose from than what
you find in a store, magazine, TV, or on the radio.
IK: Would you like to collaborate
with a Bulgarian music group?
NSR: Yes, definitely!
I have met before the Bulgarian group Lot Lorien, and they
are very good musicians. Their music was very difficult
for me to learn! They really brought my attention to the
rich possibilities in Bulgarian music, and I hope to meet
up with them one day in the future. I'm told that the newest
Lot Lorien CD features a piece that they composed and dedicated
IK: What do you know about Bulgaria
and Bulgarian traditional music?
NSR: Not a lot! I do know
the music can be rhythmically complex and have seen some
great tapan players before. I performed on darbuka
once with the Solev Family, a traditional Bulgarian group.
They were such great musicians, and it was thrilling to
be playing with them and seeing an entire audience dance
so energetically to a rhythm in 9 beats! Americans don't
dance like that! When I was an undergraduate in music school,
a friend played for me the music of Le Mystère des
Voix Bulgares. That music captivated me immediately! I remember
listening to it for days and carrying the LP into a music
theory class at Rutgers University asking the professor
to play it! For Bulgaria itself, I'm sorry to say I know
little. Only that the country seems very rich culturally,
brimming with beauty, and that it should be a very stimulating
place to visit.
IK: Do you know Bulgarian world
music bands or musicians?
NSR: Not really. I have
only performed briefly with the Solev Family in Cleveland,
Ohio in the USA and Lot Lorien in Seoul, South Korea. That's
all I know of besides hearing the music of Le Mystère
des Voix Bulgares. My favorite Bulgarian song is "Ei
IK: Ethno, Art, and World Music
is the only world music publication of this type in Bulgaria.
What would you wish to our readers?
NSR: First I would wish
to say thank you so much! This is my very first interview
ever in my life. If anyone is interested in finding out
more about me or all kinds of world music instruments, they
can go to my free website at http://www.nscottrobinson.com
where they will find a huge gallery of instruments with
photos, sound, and text. There is also information about
my CDs and performance schedule. I would also like to say
that I wish the very best to the good people of Bulgaria,
and that I hope to experience the alluring culture of Bulgaria
myself some day soon!